Writing Secrets: Your worst nightmare can be your greatest gift
“See what you’ve already written as raw material.”
This is the kind of advice writers dread… “What do you mean? Thousands of words of deathless prose – raw material?”
Yet, I believe it can also be the greatest gift you can receive. If the story’s not developed, and deeply flawed; if the characters are shallow and cardboard, the best thing you can do is use what you’ve written as a resource to draw on; as a means to feel your way towards an understanding of your characters and their world.
This is not simply a position that fiction writers find themselves in. A great many people, who set out to write fact, don’t realise quite how much work they need to put into deciding what the story really is. They think the story already exists, which is a misconception. Life exists: stories must be formed, through choice and selection.
It’s the non-fiction writers, as often as the novelists, who find themselves in the position of having a repository of words which have rambled about and taken the story no further. It’s best to recognise this. And if someone with experience is kind enough to point it out, be grateful.
Don’t fiddle with it. It will never feel right. You’ll find yourself re-arranging it forever, never being quite satisfied, and it’ll end up in your bottom drawer. Writing isn’t easy. It’s often unutterably hard. It takes time, and more effort than you can ever imagine. It takes courage.
So be brave. Put it aside and start from scratch, with a well-thought through story and complex, well-developed characters. Dip into the raw material for ideas, or to draw out passages which might be useful, usually with some additions or changes.
It will move more quickly this time around and, once you’ve finally come to the end, you’ll be grateful you did.
Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: The truest joy of creation‘
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Dear Jo – Anne
I am so shaken, to write to you, but i was reading Richard’s Monday Motivation, and he advised me to visit
your Blog. I am very inspired by your advise on ‘ Tips for writing’ , i am really inspired.
I am a student from All about writing . My name is Portia Qubeka, South African, Johannesburg.
I was born in Soweto, there are so many stories to be written, told and preserved . I was lucky to have enrolled with All about writing. Its not easy but i will try.
Thank you for your inspiration.
Thank you Portia. That’s all any of us can do. We are, in the end, all student writers. We are all trying, in our own way, to be better. What we do know is that every writer can improve and keep improving by doing exactly what you are doing: reading, writing and learning the skills. Writing is always hard, but it’s worth the struggle. Thank you for joining us and promoting the art of writing. It’s not just good for you. It’s good for our whole society. As you said, so many stories need to be told.